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Higuchi Biosciences Center announces 2016 J.R. and Inez Jay Fund research awards

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

LAWRENCE — Three projects were selected this year to receive the 2016 J.R. and Inez Jay Fund research award. Two will be conducted by faculty from the departments of Chemistry and of Pharmacology & Toxicology and one by a researcher from the Higuchi Biosciences Center (HBC).

The first proposal selected, “Soft Pyrazine-based Gels as Antimicrobials Targeting Surgical Site Infections,” was submitted by Kristin Bowman-James, distinguishedKristin Bowman-James professor of chemistry and director of the Kansas NSF EPSCoR. She will collaborate on this research project with Stevin Gehrke, professor of chemical and petroleum engineering; Candan Tamerler, professor of mechanical engineering, and Paul Arnold, professor of neurosurgery at KU Medical Center. The project will explore the gelation properties of tetra-substituted pyrazines for biomedical applications, with focus on targeting surgical site infections. The ease with which the pyrazine framework can be functionalized will play a major role in achieving superior cost-effective antimicrobials for use in implants. If successful, these antimicrobial implants will have the potential to disrupt the current pattern of hardware usage in surgery.

The second project selected for funding was submitted by Nancy Muma, professor and chair of pharmacology & toxicology. Titled “SUMOylation in theNancy Muma Treatment of Depression,” it will be conducted in collaboration with Eduardo Rosa-Molinar, director of the Microscopy & Analytical Imaging Laboratory. With this project, researchers propose to explore the novel hypothesis that SUMOylation of serotonin 1A receptors (5-HT1AR) regulates 5-HT1AR signal transduction. This research should provide preliminary data for a study aimed at understanding the molecular regulation of 5-HT1AR signal transduction and the role of estrogens in this process. This in turn can lead to the development of novel treatments for depression and anxiety disorders.

The final project, titled “Bioenergetic Manipulation for the Treatment of Alzheimer’s Disease,” was submitted by Frank Schoenen, associate research professor at the HBC and medicinal chemist at the University of Kansas Cancer Center. Schoenen will conduct this project in collaboration with Russell Swerdlow, professor of neurology at KUMC andFrank Schoenen director of the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center (KU ADC); Eli Michaelis, research professor at the HBC and director of the KU ADC Mitochondrial Genomics and Metabolism Core, and Paul Hanson, Chancellors Club teaching professor of chemistry. Mitochondrial dysfunction in brain and blood platelets of subjects with Alzheimer’s disease has been reported in numerous studies and is thought to be causally related to the neurodegeneration of AD. The purpose of this research is to develop a "mitochondrial medicine" that would enhance mitochondrial bioenergetics and increase the formation of new mitochondria and, therefore, provide a new approach in the treatment of AD.

The J.R. and Inez W. Jay Research Fund was established in 1977 through an estate gift to KU Endowment from Inez W. Jay; her late husband, John R. Jay, had been a pharmacist in Wichita.

The purpose of the Jay Fund is to stimulate interdisciplinary, biomedical research activities in pursuit of large external grants such as multi-investigator R01 awards, program projects and center grants awarded under the tutelage of the HBC. All biomedical scientists holding principal investigator status at KU are eligible to apply for one of these awards. The emphasis of the awards is strongly on interdisciplinary, collaborative research efforts. Recipients are selected by members of the HBC internal advisory committee.

KU Endowment is the independent, nonprofit organization serving as the official fundraising and fund-management organization for KU. Founded in 1891, KU Endowment was the first foundation of its kind at a U.S. public university.